Playing without senior point guard Bronson Koenig (left calf injury), the 10th ranked Wisconsin Badgers lost their second consecutive game, falling 64-58 to the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Ethan Happ finished with 22 points on 10 of 13 shooting, but 18 of the 22 came in the first half. The Badgers committed crucial turnovers and missed shots down the stretch as they fell into a first place tie with Maryland and Purdue atop the Big Ten Conference, all with 10-3 league records.
The Badgers (21-5, 10-3) will host Maryland (22-4, 10-3) on Sunday at the Kohl Center. Purdue (21-5, 10-3) will host Michigan State on Saturday.
Unlike the last two opponents, Michigan decided not to double team Happ in the post in the first half and he had a free reign. Along with his 22 points for the game, Happ added six assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block before fouling out in the final minute.
The Wolverines changed their defensive strategy in the second half, sending a double team at Happ, forcing him to give the ball up. It worked, and Happ’s teammates couldn’t convert enough to make the Wolverines pay.
Freshman D’Mitrik Trice, starting in place of Bronson Koenig, finished with nine points, five rebounds and four assists, but hit just 2 of 15 from the field and 1 of 6 from three-point range. As a team, the Badgers hit just 3 of 16 from distance (18.8%) and just 23 of 60 overall (38.3%).
Khalil Iverson was the only other Badger in double figures, finishing with 10 points. Zak Showalter finished with eight points, but most of his work came on the defensive end, holding Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. to five points on 1 of 8 shooting.
Michigan hit 9 of 23 from distance, getting 21 points from Moritz Wagner and 18 from Zak Irvin.
Earlier in the week, senior Nigel Hayes said he sent messages to everyone on the team about stepping up and making plays if Koenig wasn’t able to play.
We’ve also heard coach Greg Gard say repeatedly over the last week, talking about seniors taking over as their career’s start to come to an end.
Wisconsin needs those seniors to step up. Hayes hit 3 of his 7 field goals but took only those seven shots. He finished with 6 points and 5 rebounds. Not exactly picking up the slack. Fellow senior starter Vitto Brown really struggled. He played 18 minutes and went scoreless.
The Badgers need Koenig to get healthy. Sitting him down now is a good move.
His replacement, D’Mitrik Trice may have only made 2 of 15 shots, but at least he took shots. Hayes needs to take charge, take the ball to the basket and get to the free throw line.
The Badgers only attempted nine free throws last night, making all nine. Hayes didn’t attempt a single free throw.
The Badgers aren’t sure if they’ll have Koenig for Sunday’s game against Maryland. After last night’s game, Gard said Koenig is still day-to-day.